Coaching tip of the month, October 2019
Over the last six months, I have received inquiries from districts about implementing a peer coaching model. These districts are facing what so many of our districts are… the economic strains and stress of inadequate funding for schools, students, teachers, and programs. What’s a district to do?
I’m conflicted… I believe that all instructional coaching is peer coaching. I believe that peer support and peer learning are critical to the success of any instructional model. I believe that learning is social and with that comes certain responsibility… that is, the responsibility to ensure that learning is for all, regardless of zip code.
My dilemma is who moves the practice forward?
Providing support in education is different than providing support in the medical field or in business. But even in those fields, a peer or consultant is trained in providing peer support services. In business, there are coaches who are hired to support executives. Businesses tend to have more than one employee… why aren’t those employees peer coaching each other and the executive who leads the business? I think because sometimes, businesses need an “outsider” to share the whole picture and to keep the tasks aligned to the goals and intended outcomes. They are not encumbered with doing those same deeds themselves… they are coaching “from a distance.”
ASCD defines peer coaching as, “… a confidential process through which two or more professional colleagues work together to reflect on current practices; expand, refine, and build new skills; share ideas; teach one another; conduct classroom research; or solve problems in the workplace. Peer coaching has nothing to do with evaluation.” I agree with this definition. What I have a hard time wrapping my head around is how teachers with full schedules can support each other and do all these things in classrooms other than their own.
In theory, peer coaching is a perfect solution to changing practice. But, where are the standards that indicate the peer coaching is appropriate and aligned to standards, instructional practice, and assessment tasks? Who helps each person uncover the mysteries of data and the data driven decisions that help teachers align their teaching to the intended outcomes? Who has time to provide intentional, dedicated support for exactly that to happen? How is the BDA cycle of coaching sustained?
Peer coaching as some may define it worries me. It seems to me to be a leaderless group that has no one person ensuring that practice is moving forward or that certain goals are achieved in non-evaluative ways. And while I think some teams can function without a leader, I’m skeptical that anymore than day to day tasks can get accomplished without someone ensuring that team members are motivated and are all working towards the same goals. If there is no one with deliberate time to bring people together and keep the ball rolling, will it happen at all?
So, it brings me to the question of ego… if there is an instructional coach in a building, do staff members feel that person is “higher” than most of them? Is there an “elevation” factor that impedes the collaboration of staff members? I think not, especially if the instructional coach is the right person for the position, has been appropriately educated in the components of effective instructional coaching, understands adult learners, and recognizes that everyone is a member in a community of practice and learning. Instructional coaching is a truly democratic process when the coach and his/her teaching colleagues realize that multiple perspectives yield shared learning. That shared learning should not be confused with peer coaching.
As teacher leaders, instructional coaches are skilled practitioners who understand what engagement means… first with the adult learners they support and then with helping those adult learners engage their own students. They bring together their teaching colleagues and collectively problem-solve, identify trends in schools, collect and analyze data so that data driven decisions are the norm, and create an environment that values learning for all. Someone has to lead the charge and make the time to do it.
So, coaches remember these tips:
- Clarify your role and responsibilities; revisit the expectations and remind the staff how you support teaching and learning;
- Bring your teaching colleagues together regularly to collaborate… learning is social!
- Listen to your teaching colleagues… value their voices and expertise; you are NOT the expert;
- Take the pulse of the school… what are the goals for school wide improvement and strategize with your teaching colleagues to identify ways to achieve those goals;
- Lose the ego… instructional coaching is not a “fixit” model or one that means someone is right and someone is wrong; everyone is a team member and winning means the students and teachers are moving practice forward.